“Why the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada is Important to the US Anti-War Movement” by Virginia Rodino, posted on Dissident Voice, May 29, 2006
“Those who make a conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war… have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism. ” –Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
Iraq. For those of us steeped in fighting our government’s occupation of Iraq, the list of descriptors for the war roll off our tongue in our debates on subways and in supermarket lines: illegal, immoral, unjust, unnecessary… Visual representations of the horrors in Iraq flash through our minds daily, fill up our email in-boxes: civilians being tortured, parents holding dead or dying babies, children with missing limbs, battered faces, screaming in pain. We see soldiers and Marines kicking down doors, parents cowering over their children in feeble attempts to shield them. We see men shackled, in hoods, dressed in orange if dressed at all, attack dogs lunging at them.
And then we hear of the activism of ordinary people nationwide, who are demanding that the billions — no, the trillions — of dollars being poured into the coffers of Halliburton, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, and the like be instead invested into maintaining a healthy society here: into our crumbling schools, our failing health care system, pension plans for our elders, and job training for our youth.
US imperialist swaggering in Iraq is choking opportunities for our future — the dollar is declining, civil liberties are being crushed, our children’s schools are being militarized. In response, millions of Americans are organizing impressive pressure campaigns in efforts to indict Karl Rove, force Donald Rumsfeld to resign, and impeach George Bush. At local levels, they are fighting to get military recruiters out of schools and allow union representatives and peace organizations in. They are fighting for affordable housing, living wages, and clean environments in which to live.
The anti-war movement has become the majority of Americans, as polls unquestionably show. We support the troops, as they are our brothers and fathers, mothers and daughters, sisters and sons, neighbors and friends. We want our National Guard members, our Marines and soldiers, to be brought home immediately, and we want them to be taken care of when they are returned.
We hold up as beacons for the movement the powerful voices of Gold Star and Military Families Speaking Out, Veterans For Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Perhaps particularly moving are the voices of those who have been at the front line in Iraq and are now repenting for carrying out the orders they followed, or those who caught a glimpse of the carnage, refused to fight, and were granted conscientious objector status, or those who were refused CO status and instead chose to serve time in jail rather than participate in the pillaging, plundering, rape, and murder of Iraq and its people.
There is another group of unspeakably courageous men and their families who have refused to kill in our name.
According to the War Resisters Support Campaign, there are known to be about twenty former soldiers and Marines of the US military, who, like over 50,000-100,000 of their forefathers from the Vietnam era, are seeking sanctuary in Canada for themselves and their families. They estimate between 150 and 200 more are living under the radar in Canada. Desertion from the US military now numbers 8,000 according to most sources, although this is considered a conservative figure.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, desertion carries the death penalty in time of war.
Also among the 13 other offenses punishable by death is the disobeying of a superior commissioned officer’s orders.
Following the Second World War, the Nuremberg Tribunal set out important principles of international law. Those principles established that soldiers have a moral duty, not a choice, to refuse to carry out illegal orders. During the period of 1965-1973, more than 50,000 Americans made their way to Canada, refusing to participate in an immoral war. At the time, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said:
Those who make a conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war… have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism.
The Canadian government’s present acts of aggression in Afghanistan and Haiti notwithstanding, tens of thousands of Canadians, including several hundred of former resisters from the Vietnam era, have been petitioning their government to provide refuge for this new generation of conscientious objectors.
With Vietnam still reverberating in the hearts and minds of many Canadians, the empathetic relationship between the Canadian anti-war movement and the war resisters is very strong and reciprocal.
A victory in Canada, allowing the war resisters to stay, would be a victory for the global anti-war movement. In essence, the Canadian state would be acknowledging the fact that the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq is illegal. There would be a safe and legal haven for those 72% of U.S. troops who believe that the United States military should withdraw within the next year. There would be an option for the 49% of troops who are reporting low morale in their unit.
In the United States, there are two upcoming events that Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War are organizing to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters seeking refuge in the north.
The first is an event to be held in Buffalo, NY, and across the river in Fort Erie, Ontario, on June 16 and 17. “Peace Has No Borders: A Festival of Resistance” includes a concert and rally at Kleinhans Music Hall on Friday, June 16, and then a meeting with the war resisters across the Peace Bridge in Ontario the following afternoon. Interested participants are encouraged to order tickets online early for this historic event.
All proceeds will benefit the War Resisters Support Campaign.
The second event dovetails from the Veterans For Peace national convention. Last year, the convention helped spawn and support “Camp Casey” and peace mom Cindy Sheehan’s vigil outside of the Bush ranch in Crawford, TX. This year, the convention is promoting a gathering at the Canadian border of U.S. veterans and U.S. war resisters, the Sunday after the convention, which is being held in Seattle, WA, in August 10-13.
It is through winning struggles on every front that we can overcome the war machine that makes cannon fodder of our children and leaves our society in ruin. Pressuring the Canadian government to allow the resisters to stay, and supporting those war resisters who made it safely to Canada will provide hope to the enlisted G.I.s now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will only strengthen the connectivity of the global anti-war movement.
If international heads of state are colluding on matters of war, then we must strategize internationally on matters of peace.
Let the War Resisters Stay!
Virginia Rodino is the national organizer for U.S. Labor Against the War and a member of the United for Peace and Justice International Committee. The views expressed in this article reflect her own.